| Oct 28, 2011
by Katie Branca
In October 2010, sixteen International Reading Association (IRA) members from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand boarded a plane for Israel. The delegation spent nine days overseas, exploring Israeli history and culture, while diving into the details of the country’s literacy education system.
The unique educational expectations in Israel are what first caught the attention of former board member Taffy Raphael when she was planning the trip. In Israel, every citizen is expected to become literate in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, without exception. “The American microcosm is concentrated in Israel,” Raphael says. “If you think about how the United States has struggled with how to best support students who are learning new languages, that’s a primary issue in Israel.”
Pamela Mason, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is sure that what she saw in Israel will impact how she prepares her students. “My responsibility is to train these literacy educators not only to teach different types of learners but also in terms of different political expectations.”
Seeing Things First Hand
The delegates had the opportunity to witness Israel’s education system at work and to discuss best practices among themselves. At the Kibbutz School of Education, teachers introduced the delegation to a successful clinical model where groups of students are brought in periodically so that student teachers can practice a variety of lesson plans and become confi dent in the
At the Center for Educational Technology in Tel Aviv, directors explained how professional development resources are changing. The largest producer of textbooks and resources in Israel has now turned to digital books and the Internet to improve teacher resources.
Seeking to understand how Israeli educators teach growing numbers of immigrants, delegates visited the Ulpan Etzion Campus in Jerusalem. The absorption center supports multiple classrooms for language instruction, as well as a Hebrew immersion program where residents can learn the language intensively.
Delegates were also able to foster more tangible ties between Israel and the United States. While visiting the Alon High School in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, administrators agreed to begin a partnership with RJ Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts in Hartford, Connecticut.
Pamela Totten-Alvarado, a delegate and principal of the Kinsella Magnet School, looks forward to working with the Alon School long-term. “It is collectively our vision that the students from both schools will embrace each other’s passion for the arts through the use of technology,” she says.
The Exhibit in Orlando
Months after returning home, Angela Fortune, a delegation member, sat on the floor of her living room sorting photographs. Creating an exhibit for the IRA 56th Annual Convention in Orlando was the perfect opportunity to share the experience with others, even if it left her covered in double-stick tape.
After weeks of taping, gluing, and stapling, the exhibit display was complete and ready for convention. Three-dimensional props, layers of photographs, and heart-felt quotes from delegates jumped from the poster board and welcomed passersby.
“We had very good traffic flow and a lot of great questions,” Taffy Raphael shares.
What’s more, Dr. Shlomo Alon from Israel’s Ministry of Education joined the delegation at convention and spent a great deal of time with the exhibit. Delegates had especially enjoyed speaking with him overseas, and Fortune felt it was a highlight of the trip. “It was really exciting to meet with a leader of their educational system,” she says. “So we really highlighted that in the presentation.”
Beyond Best Practice
For many delegates, however, meeting with leaders and exploring best practices accounted for only half of their experience. Some, like delegate Kathleen Gill, as classroom teacher from Ohio, found being in the presence of so many passionate educators overwhelming.
“There are some life experiences that are so transformative that words just seem to fail,” she says. “Having had the chance to take part in this experience and connect with people who all share the same vision was a personal and professional experience of a lifetime.”
Twyla Miranda, a delegate from Texas Wesleyan University, also felt a sense of unity. “I learned we are similar,” she says. “We want all learners to be thoughtful, lifelong readers.”
This article also appeared in the October/November 2011 issue of Reading Today.